Friday 3 May 2024

TUSC shock Labour with great result in Preston Deepdale

The 522 votes won by Hasan Tunay, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate in Preston Council’s Deepdale ward, are just one indication of the changes in political consciousness that will emerge right across working-class communities, once the bitter reality of a Starmer-led Labour Government carrying out cuts and attacks in the interests of the capitalist class starts to sink in.

The result at the count in Deepdale (turnout 28%)

For an area like Deepdale, a majority Muslim area in the city of Preston, the Labour leadership’s stance over Palestine has already driven home the reality of Starmer’s Labour in advance of the General Election. Over the months of well-attended local demonstrations against the war in Gaza, Socialist Party members had consistently raised the proposal that anti-war campaigners should stand their own candidate to challenge the sitting Labour MP, Mark Hendrick. Following the success of George Galloway in Rochdale, a community hustings was called and Michael Lavalette, formerly an elected TUSC councillor in Preston, was overwhelmingly selected as the ‘Preston Independents’ prospective candidate.

However, Lancashire Socialist Party members felt that it was important that Labour wasn’t just challenged at the General Election, but in the May city council elections too. Although Preston Labour likes to cover itself with a radical veneer through its ‘community wealth building’ “Preston Model”, we knew that meant very little to local workers who saw services being cutback and rarely had a good word to say for the Council. We knew that a clear campaign to call for a vote against cuts, privatisation and war could get significant support. 

A call had been made in the community for “No Ceasefire, No Vote”, and to register a protest by spoiling their council election ballot papers. However, although we knew we didn’t have a strong base in the city, we thought local voters needed to be given the opportunity to not just protest against Labour but to actively vote for candidates opposed to war and cuts. 

That’s why two Socialist Party members in Preston agreed to stand for TUSC. One was Joel Patton, final year student at UCLan, in the Plungington ward that included most of the student halls. Joel received a very creditable 137 votes  - 10% of the total - on election day, showing the core support for a clear anti-cuts stand, even though the Labour candidate in that ward was seen as being individually supportive of the ceasefire campaign. Similar core votes were secured where TUSC candidates stood in nearby Chorley too. 

Joel Patton at the count in Preston Guild Hall

The other TUSC candidate was Hasan Tunay, a local restaurant worker, standing in Deepdale itself. We produced 7000 A5 leaflets that were distributed across the two wards, clearly putting the case for a vote for TUSC to oppose war, occupation, cuts and inequality. They were also given out at the Preston for Palestine demonstration in April too. But leaflets alone aren’t enough, what was also key was to discuss with as many people as we could meet on stalls, street corners and doorsteps. 

It was soon clear that we were pushing at an open door, particularly in Deepdale where, for example, right at the start of the campaign, one corner shop took a bundle of our leaflets and proudly gave them out to its customers for the rest of the day.

We also organised a public meeting. One of those who attended was a community organiser from Deepdale. He made the point that, although a vote for TUSC was being discussed, people wanted to know more about the candidate himself. Because Hasan is a shift worker, it hadn’t been easy for him to get around the ward during the campaign, nor even to attend our public meeting. Instead, we produced a short video message that helped put a face to Hasan’s name. Hasan was also then recognised as someone who had been supporting the Gaza protests, making sure that the ‘Preston Independents’ recommended a vote for Hasan in Deepdale.

At the election count, it was immediately clear that Hasan was going to get a good vote. The Labour candidate’s team looked worried. While Labour eventually secured 849 votes to hold the seat, Hasan’s 522 votes amounted to a significant 31.3% of the valid votes cast, well ahead of both the Tories and Liberal Democrats. If the many spoilt votes amongst the nearly 200 rejected votes had instead also been cast largely for TUSC, then the final totals would have been even closer.

The result proves that we were right to stand, even though we had quite a limited base in the city to start with – although a base that is now starting to grow. There was a political vacuum that needed to be filled, and our clear socialist program helped to fill it. 

The size of the TUSC vote in Preston provides a real platform that can be built on by both Michael Lavalette in the General Election and by a wider community and trade union backed electoral challenge in future council elections. 

Martin Powell-Davies, 3rd May 2024

For an initial response to the election results nationally, read the article on the Socialist Party website.

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